August 14, 2017

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Metanoia

The older I get the more I realize is that the whole nature of Christianity is to constantly start over (and, ideally, to be cheerful about it). The Resurrection and Pentecost were new starts, just as Abraham, Noah, and Moses before Jesus represented new starts. The first word of the first homilies of John the Baptist and Jesus was "metanoia", which means "turn around", as in "start over, you're going the wrong way."

This gets driven home not only in the necessity of starting afresh after Confession but also with the transmission of basic truths about Jesus. The blood, sweat, prayers and study of so many before us are accounted little; the very nature of religious education is to relearn what previous generations knew. History shows the need to reinvent the wheel never diminishes. No wonder in 2 Peter the sacred author writes, "I will always remind you of these things, even though you already know them and are established in the truth you have.". There's no resting on the laurels of truth given the assaults of the evil one and human lack of faith.

It can seem discouraging that whole continents (like Europe) will need to metanoia and start over - but much, much less so when one realizes it happens on a micro scale in us and that's the way it's always been. Fortunately God is patient, and if he can put up with our constant need to re-learn and turn around than we can't be impatient with the same. I admire the cheerfulness of St. Ignatius of Loyola whose feast day was not long ago. From a meditation on his life:
"Soon after their foundation the Jesuits began to meet the challenge of the Reformation: a tough task, given the debilitated state into which the Church had fallen, but one which, as Ignatius said, had to be undertaken 'without hard words or contempt for people’s errors'."

August 13, 2017

The Natural 

Tye First Reading at Mass this weekend was the famous story of Elijah finding God not in the wind or fire or storm but the whispering voice

I've long interpreted it, rightly or wrongly, as saying that God prefers not to draw undue attention to himself by the gaudy means of miracles.  

It's a very '70s thing to minimize miracles, like how Jesus feeding the five thousand was said to be not a true miracle but simply people sharing what they had in their cloak (man, they came prepared! Like early preppers!) 

This is the sense of the meaning in the Didache Study Bible notes:

"It was a sign of things to come in which God's Word and inspiration would largely come through less spectacular means and eventually through Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God made flesh."

Our pastor mentioned this is his favorite passage of the Old Testament; it's never been mine simply because I've read it as a buzzkill, an pseudo-announcement of the limiting of the supernatural. "But Momma, that's where the fun is" to quote Springsteen. Or so I thought, having a too transcendent view of God. 

It sometimes seems the hardest part of Christianity is accepting God's use of the unspectacular "natural" means to effect his will. (Of course God whispering, as he does in this pasage, is itself a miracle.)  But even flashy miracles, like the Eucharist, are effected via the natural means of a priest and bread and wine.

There are other interpretations. From Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture:

"[God's] presence was felt only in the quiet of a gentle breeze, because his being is peace, his attributes wise counsel and calm constancy. As the zephyr contrasts with the hurricane, so the peaceful manifestation with the tempestuous zeal of Elias."

From St. Ephrem:

"This was the purpose of such a revelation: the Lord wanted to instruct the prophet through various figures in order to correct his excessive zeal and to lead him to imitate, according to righteousness, the providence of the most High who regulates the judgments of his justice through the abundant mercy of his grace

From Harpers bible commentary:

"Many scholars interpret this account as a deliberate rejection of the storm theophany in Yahwism because of its special associations with the Canaanite rain god Baal. The rejection comes at a time when Israel is divided between the worship of Baal and Yahweh, and the danger of syncretism is great. It is clear, in any case, that according to the prophetic point of view from which the Elijah story is told, this incident represents a transition from the spectacular theophanies witnessed by early Israel to the quiet transmission of the divine word to the prophets."

Catholic study bible:

"Though various phenomena, such as wind, storms, earthquakes, fire, accompany the divine presence, they do not constitute the presence itself which, like the “silent sound,” is mysterious and ultimately ungraspable."

Matthew Henry:

"The wind, and earthquake, and fire, did not make him cover his face, but the still voice did. Gracious souls are more affected by the tender mercies of the Lord, than by his terrors. The mild voice of Him who speaks from the cross, or the mercy-seat, is accompanied with peculiar power in taking possession of the heart."

August 10, 2017

Trip ye Log.

Certainly the raison d'ĂȘtre of blogs is to post self-indulgent trip logs, the modern equivalent to European vacation slides, so without further ado....

Sunday:   Headed out via Philadelphia enroute to the oddly named Newport News, Virginia. Not a newspaper but a town. Checked in the hotel at Williamsburg and the beautiful weather urged us out immediately - but to where exactly? I wasn't particularly picky, but turns out I should've been since we were walking on the road to Jamestown, not Colonial Williamsburg. My Williamsburg app proved less than helpful but eventually we turned around and headed back to the hotel (aka the wordy "Williamsburg Autograph Collection Lodge") and then got on the right route.

We were burning time, and the Jefferson-Wythe lecture began at 3 far edge of the "colony" from where we'd be entering. So I jogged back, got the car, picked up Mom & Dad and then got close to Charlton stage area. I got out while Mom & Dad took the car to look for beer and snacks. A good call on their part as Colonial Williamsburg, though open in general to walkers (and this was a walkers' paradise) didn't have lectures or re-enactments available to people like me who were unticketed. So I was completely taken aback when I walked by a girl in period piece who saw me go towards the stage and said I needed a ticket. I asked where could I get a ticket and she pointed vaguely and said it was at some shop I'd never heard of, having just arrived. I realized by the time I got a ticket I would miss half the show, and only have another hour before everything started closing. So I went undercover - I removed my sunglasses, donned a green shirt I'd had in case the a/c (in what I assumed was an auditorium) was freezing. Thus "concealed", I slipped in the back Jack, finding a white gate open just a sliver. In a few minutes I was enjoying the repartee of Jefferson and Wythe!

It was a bit preachy at times but I did appreciate how Jefferson and Wythe emphasized the valuing of diversity of opinion. In a telling example, Wythe mentioned he had a teacher who was asked how effective could he have been given the diversity of opinion of his graduates. The teacher replied, "You could pay me no greater compliment. I educated my students and did not indoctrinate them. I taught them to think for themselves and thus the variety of opinion.". Certainly modern universities could do well to emulate him.

Later Jefferson was asked about his owning slaves: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever."

Impressively, Dad texted me in no time that he had already scored beer and was back at the Lodge, which seemed pretty good given we were in an unpromising venue for supermarkets (a colonial theme park) and getting back to home base certainly wasn't a given. But with the nearly irreplaceable help of the Google navigator they were enjoying happy hour well before me.

After the talk I headed out for a mile or two walk along the sun-graced avenue, past many a well-kept English garden. I grow my tomatoes for their function (their fruit) rather than aesthetics and thus they grow amid grass and nature run somewhat amuck, but I can see it would be nice to sometime again plow the earth and weed the garden and have that fond look of order, of fecund tomato plants against the rich dark earth.

Shops were open to the non-ticketed, of course, so I found my way into one that offered a selection of Williamsburg-themed beers and bought a six of the disparate choices. I carried the beer while walking wide lanes with the pleasant scent of horse apples pervading the air.  Happened across the William & Mary bookstore and headed in briefly because I love the smell of bookprint in the morning...or evening.

They have horses and buggies with period-clothed drivers and when I saw the driver using a cellphone to take a picture of the family participating, I snapped a picture. Talk about him breaking out of character.


From another passing carriage the in-character driver loudly exclaimed to two elderly couples on the main thoroughfare: "Gentlemen, it is so nice of you to escort your lovely daughters on a stroll," to which one of them said, "The check is in the mail!"

We had dinner at the restaurant downstairs, "Sweet Tea and Barley", and ate outside. The (apparently foreign-born) waiter humorously brought Dad and me glasses of ice for our beer. Iced beer. I relocated the ice to under the table, it being outdoors and all and ice is environmentally friendly.

MONDAY: 

So today's plan was aggressive: start with an early breakfast and then spend the day in the past. ("Welcome to the past," as we heard before the Cry Witch production.)

Early breakfast meant really early - 7:30am. We're in the army now. Boot camp, up and at 'em. We enjoyed the delicious and sumptuous breakfast at Traditions restaurant downstairs.

Then I headed out but missed the 10 minute orientation at Market square. Come 11am I met Mom & Dad at the Charlton Stage, scene of my yesterday criminal trespass (I took a commemorative photo today of the slightly unlatched gate through which I made my illicit entry).

We listened to "A Difference of Opinion with J. Madison, G. Mason and young T. Jefferson". An interesting discussion around the role of religion in the colonies and whether to allow freedom of religion and not have the Church of England as the established church in Virginia. They eventually talked Mason into compromising, by giving religious freedom a "half a loaf". Mason argued that you can't in the name of banishing a tyranny enact a tyranny by forcing religious freedom from a populace that wants an established church.

Afterward we got a picture with the three well-dressed statesmen. I was careful to ask for a "portrait" and not a picture or selfie, those terms meaningless to Mr. Jefferson.

From noon till 3 we then wandered around the colony, scoring a tour of the Capitol building where Peyton Randolph held sway in the lower chamber (he briefly owned a house on the property where we are now staying, Tazewell Hall of the Williamsburg Lodge). The capitol was not extant unfortunately - it was reconstructed as well as they could ascertain from records and paintings. Only the foundation of Virginia's capitol - which moved to Richmond in 1781 - remained but it was still neat to think of all the luminaries who had trod this land (Washington, Jefferson, Mason, Patrick Henry, etc..). The chamber looked like it could easily fit in England given the monarch paintings and British seal. Mom and Dad ascended to the governor's chair in the upper house where felony trials were held, such as the later "Cry Witch" re-enactment that we would later see.

Next we happened across an agreeable tour of the Wetherburn Tavern, a fine house that is pretty much original from 1740. It was amazing to see the yellow pine floorboards in such good shape after some 275 years. We saw the prosperous owner's great room (added 1751), varied guest lodgings, dining rooms and such. Hogwarts illustrations that depicted the aristocracy in crude ways were placed high on the ceilings, as was the style of... the aristocracy.

I took off then to get the tickets for Cry Witch and tomorrow's ghost walk at the Visitor Center, which turned out to be way off the 18th-century beaten path. I followed a winding road over bridges and past fields and streams until finally at the counter trying to get tickets while the lady had a heckuva time finding them on her computer system. Or perhaps she wasn't using a computer but an nonfunctioning 18th century technological equivalent.

Nevertheless, the walk was pleasant given the great weather (one local said, "Are you enjoying this cool Virginia weather?"). It was in the 80s and sunny, but low humidity. It's like we got Arizona in Virginia.

I met Mom & Dad at the Governor's Palace Stage for "My Story, My Voice", in which we witnessed an 18th century fellow argue with his teenage son over the scandal of the father's bigamy in taking an Indian wife while in the wilds beyond the frontier in the Carolinas. Only via mixing the races, he argued, will we have peace. Same today as it ever was. The actor then went out-of-character and talked a little about himself, how he used to do re-enactments at the Cherokee museum near the Great Smokies. I asked how common this taking an extra Indian wife was in those times but he said we have no way of knowing since no records were kept (only valid marriages are recorded).

Afterward I briefly hit the art museum and saw a selection of many objects recovered from the early settlement at the Wetherburn Tavern - including scissors, plate fragments, nails and forks, all squirreled away in rats' nests over the centuries: "The objects found in the nest from the Tavern were collected by the rats over approximately 127 years, representing 85 generations of rats.". As rats only live 18 months in the wild, making for quite a few generations.

Also kind of interesting to see a fingerprint impression left on an old brick that was "so detailed that, if made today and run through a fingerprint data base, it could identify the person who made it."

Next up, hotel shuffle to Cry Witch, an 17th century trial reenactment. We weren't on the jury but got to decide anyhow. Like my hero, the late Justice Scalia, I was set to rule not on the logic or illogic of the law, but the application of it.

I admit to wavering in my strict application when the defendant was attempting to say the "Our Father" (said to be proof you can't say it if you're a witch) even though the prosecutor argued it wasn't admissible. Had she made it through I probably would've voted "not guilty". But she stumbled over the prayer and fainted half-way through it.

After the actual 1699 case, Grace Sherwood lived another 30+ years, so she was either found not guilty at the trial or was rendered guilty but subsequently pardoned from the death penalty. We'll never know exactly what happened as the records, moved to Richmond when the capital moved there, were destroyed during the Civil War.

Tuesday: 

Headed via car for a history break and drove to the James County marina where the plan was to rent bikes. I wanted to have it both ways, ride bike and visit historical sites, and the closest equivalent was Jamestown Island.  There were indeed historical markers along the way but they were unreadably boring, except for one pointing out a pioneer cemetery with the first death in 1700. Which certainly beats central Ohio's cemeteries where deaths at the earliest tend to be around 1810.

But despite the lack of history I was won over by the beauty. Very tall pines and vines accompanied a narrow road with an extremely small number of cars (mostly those of tourists examining the markers) and even fewer bikers. I went ahead for part of the way and zoomed amid the forest path while playing that ol' (nostalgic for me) '80s song Magic by the Cars. Oh man that song takes me right back, especially when combined with the glorious summer sun and Miami Univ-like surroundings of Williamsburg. I felt so relaxed by what the Japanese call "forest bathing", enjoying the extreme greens and sunny skies. Smelled the crab-overrun mud banks of lagoons mixed with the wood scents of the bridge planks and pine needle beds.

An unsure beginning because Mom was very doubtful this whole thing was going to work out, fearing car traffic and hills. And unlike many of her worries this was certainly not without merit. The pressure was on!  But the bike and the course delivered richly.

It felt nothing sort of amazing that Mom had found a bike she liked. She is a bike critic extraordinaire - no more than one in two-hundred thousand bikes made in the world meet her approval. And yet this one worked out - it was a multi-speed bike, but it had a very low bar and you could brake it with pedals and not just handbrakes. At first she tried to use the tricycle they had, but despite the seeming ease of riding and lack of balance required, she panicked and had trouble getting the hang of it. The lady at the marina was very helpful and patient, trying to teach Mom how to ride the tri-bike. As Dad saw too that the lady thought there was no way Mom could ride a two-wheeler given the attempt at three wheels, but fortunately it worked out fine.

*

Next up I realized belatedly that we had scheduled and pre-paid for a Cemetery tour. This smelt of disaster in numerous ways. One was the penchant shuttle buses had for snubbing us or taking us to places we didn't want to go. A good bus is hard to find. Of the more than two dozen "Colonial Williamsburg" buses that went by us over this trip, perhaps four actually accomplished something for us despite all of them appearing more or less identical in their markings. I now know what it's like to be black, because hailing a bus here is like an African-American guy trying to hail a cab in New York City.

The other way this had the scent of doom about it was Mom was complaining of back pain so severe that (ironically) only a walking tour could cure. But she didn't know that then, and was lobbying hard to call it off, praying like Christ in the Garden: "Father, if this cup might pass me by...".

My cross was also trying to get the tour guide to actually show up. Exactly no one but us appeared up at the Courthouse for this tour, and the courthouse re-enactors had never heard of a such a tour beginning at this place. I called the phone number on the website twice - turns out the guide was busy working at the office and would arrive "soon". He did, fashionably late, an African-American student originally from Amsterdam who was studying communications at William and Mary.

He had not a trace of an accent - which was the fruit of his labor (a heavy labor indeed) of watching American television in order to learn English. The lack of accent was so profound I thought he must've been kidding about being from Amsterdam or that perhaps that's what the hip kids call NYC these days, after the Big Apple's old name of "New Amsterdam".

He graciously truncated the 90-120min two-mile walking tour to a shorter hour tour, with the promise of frequent stops at shady benches. We would supposedly see three of the four promised cemeteries, but the joke was that we would actually see no cemeteries. A cemetery tour without cemeteries! Only in America!

The Anglican church cemetery had closed to visitors about 15 minutes before we got there, so we craned our necks over the high walls around it. We were told to find the images of Abraham Lincoln in one obelisk but as hard as I looked at it - and I stared at it like it was the Holy Grail - I could see nothing but the headstone equivalent of a Rorschach test.

We were told that the assassination of the last American president (spoiler: not JFK!) was holed up with his mother nearby in a gated community with their own EMS squad and such. Dad was sharper than me and recognized this assassin in question was would-be assassin John Hinckley. (In fairness to the guide, he wasn't born yet when Reagan was shot. It would be like me talking about FDR.)

Between the Lincoln and the Hinckley, I was starting to realize I would probably only catch about 50% of the intended meaning of this communication major's talk, and I blithely accepted that going forward. I thus wasn't too surprised at the end he told us our bus stop was just around the corner, actually turned out to be around two corners.

The two other "cemeteries" that we didn't really see were unmarked burials. Under a strip of grass and the pavers of the Marketplace lay dead Confederate soldiers mistreated by a Union head (or was it vice-versa?). And beneath a haunted house, the Randolph estate, held the remains of Indians that must've been there even before the Indians encountered by the first settlers.

But the talk was entertaining and a good exercise in listening skills. I'm just relieved there wasn't a test afterward. And not a bad capper to the day, since it left time for a generous eve of happy hour and leisure.

Though I did get sidetracked with my own obsession when I learned I couldn't pick seats for the plane ride tomorrow. Under "exercise in futility" in the dictionary you can add calling an airline to have them do seat assignments. They offered to do it for me for $50 and I politely declined. They said their system showed plenty of seats to choose from on the first leg of the trip, but that they were blocked (I never go the "why") but the second leg to CMH we could choose seats. But the system hung. You can't fight the system.

*

Nice hotel accommodations. A campus more than a hotel. It's been a three-day Miami visit, only without traveling to Oxford: red brick buildings, quaint courtyards and learning about history. And, to its credit, it's not the hoppingist place I've ever seen. I don't miss the sound of engines.

The town grows on you. There's history around every corner, literally. And there's the deep quiet of the streets, with just the occasion clap of horse hooves, and that's the perfect anecdote to too much computer work and too much noise (of a metaphorical sort) about the spectacular dysfunction in D.C.

Wednesday:

The sore problem with having a two flights to get anywhere (i.e. non-direct) is it doubles the chance for problems and we did run into a buzzsaw today in Philly. Instead of touching down in Columbus at 4:59, as was supposed to happen, it's 5:40 and we're still on the runway due to thunderstorms - really just rain now - as I write this. The less than 4-hour original flight plan is now up to a minimum of 6 hrs and still going strong. Picking up the dogs at the kennel is a non-starter, so I called them and they say there's another window between 8 and 9pm but even that looks like a stretch.

Read tons of the non-fiction account of the life of Audrey Munson, "The Curse of Beauty" Just a fascinating read as far as how she lost her way (since she seems to have her head on straight as of now). Ironically it was her fierce self-defense from an lecher (but powerful Broadway mogul) that eventually led her to the shadier and newer medium of film.

*

It was a leisurely morning - woke early, around 6:30, and had almost two hours to shower, pack, drink java and enjoy the balcony.

It all worked like clockwork until it didn't (the second flight). We turned in our Lodge keys, headed to the impressive St Bede's Catholic Church, impressive mainly for the evident fervor of the community even more than the beauty of the church, although the latter was considerable (there was a library along the walls of one of the main passages full of handsome Catholic books and a fine portrait of Pope Benedict XVI - livin' in the past they are).




This was a weekday morning Mass but there was Gregorian Chant music greeting you as you entered the large square in front of the church. Once inside, around 15 minutes before Mass, there were pious souls praying together in the small tabernacle chapel. The mass was very well-attended for a weekday, and afterward there was coffee and donuts and a convivial crowd. Fragrant little eccentricities were present, like when the African-American priest broke into a solo song "The Mass is Ended" and sang at least two full verses. It reminded me instantly of the '70s as I've heard it so infrequently over the past few decades. Afterward there was clapping for the priest's song! Similarly, a random moment happened when the seminarian attending at Mass ascended the lectern and gave a mini-homily before the final blessing (the black priest had given a homily post-gospel reading). I suspect because the priest was harder to understand? Again, full applause for him after and why not?

As always in Williamsburg, they love them British, and so they mentioned Wallsingham shrine in the bulletin as well as the church being named after an English saint.

I spotted our Wetherburn Tavern tour guide up front with the servers, retrieving additional hosts as needed I guess. And here I thought she was so W.A.S.P.

After Mass we headed leisurely towards the airport, arriving hours early but enjoying the pleasant surroundings of the second smallest airport I've ever been (Hilton Head's is smallest). Nobody hardly there, very quiet and peaceful. Had breakfast sandwiches and then boarded towards Philly. Once there it went all downhill. The greater the trip, the harder the plane ride home.

Epilogue: 

The sweet stupor of post-vacation blankness. It's 3pm and I'm doing exactly what I want to do: Nothing. Just marveling at the state of nature, including the (unnatural) state of order that not having the dogs around affords. Ye dogs, I'll pick ye up later. As for me and my house, we'll serve the Lord. And pizza, as I treated myself to "gutting" a Romeo's 'za.

The past 24-hours have sort of melted into a three cheese sandwich of "did that really just happen?". Because it wasn't supposed to, not in July short of a tornado. Specifically I speak of how a relatively innocent summer rainstorm took down mighty American Airlines and the Philadelphia airport. Our originally-scheduled 3:25pm flight got delayed for four hours before being cancelled. Of the four hours we spent at least two and a half on the tarmac. And because the only way to provide a/c was to have the jet actually idling, we burned fuel for those hours until at 6pm the pilot said we'd need to refuel and thus vacate the plane. The eagerness in the voice of the pilot when he spoke of wanting to get the deplaning going spoke volumes - he was waiting to get off the plane and party. We waited another half-hour for the airport workers to come set up the connecting tunnel, so it wasn't until 6:30 we were kicked off. Significantly, they were telling us not to leave any personal belongings and to show ID as we exited the plane - the pilot and crew knew we were dead men walking, that this flight had been cancelled in all but name only.

Long story long, we waited in a massive non-moving "customer service" line; the gal in back of us was busily checking her phone and thinking we might as well get a cab together - she joked that we looked okay but she would have a quick background check done - which seemed like a good idea until I started calling cab companies and no one would lend us a car for a one-way trip to Columbus. Enterprise, Budget, Hertz, no, no and no. Finally an agent for the airline (the only "service" you could hope to get was by calling them on the phone) suggested that if I joined American Advantage rewards I could likely get a car to rent through Avis for a small fortune. The seven-hour ride cost $195, a week rental at most places.

By this time we'd left our spot in line and so were on our own for the long trip. No flights for days to Columbus, it seemed.

So the rental looked like a viable option except it involved driving 7.5 hours beginning just after 9pm, which was when we finally lay hold of reliable non-air transportation. And the beginning was great, great because we were all alert and thrilled to be moving. Maybe even towards Columbus if the navigation system was correct. But the thrill wore off, as all thrills do, helped by torrential rain and simple fatigue. The tradeoff of being home by 5am with no sleep seemed not so great compared to getting some sleep and being home by 10am. So we stopped at a Quality Inn and by 2am were in our rooms (after Mom had bluntly asked the night manager, "Do you have bedbugs?". Shockingly, he said "No we don't!" in a very surprised tone of voice).

Up by 6am and had the free (and surprisingly decent) breakfast downstairs. Out by 6:45 on a sunny, freewheeling day alive with the promise of our one goal in life: getting back home. On the miles crawled after our 3 hours sleep, on they went while our phones slowly ticked towards 0% battery charge. Eventually I had to kill the directions app.

Finally back in the heart of Ohio, we arrive at the John Glenn International Airport, drop off the car and head home. Not long after we had arrived I call the CMH baggage agent and lo and behold - no more real than a mirage really - he said that our bags were on a plane from Philly to Cbus and our bags would be available at 1pm! So we got back in the car, drove back to the airport, and experienced the sweetness of completion after driving 508 miles and now having as a bonus our luggage. Effortful it seemed, enduring hydroplaning highways, drunk drivers, the highway patrol, long single lanes from night highway construction, and potential bed bugs in one of the cheaper hotels we could find.  So instead of arriving at 5pm in Columbus, but instead got to Columbus by 1:30pm the next day (with bags, and no trip is complete till the bags are replete).

Airlines are the new cable companies. A little googling revealed that Northeast airports are a "hot mess" during summer months and that summer delays are worse and more frequent than winter! Who knew? All told 8% of flights were cancelled at Philadelphia yesterday, so we were one of that unlucky 8%. As Mom & Dad said later, "we like our boring lives.". I'm liking mine better too now.